A hand pressed down on my face. My eyes flew opened and I struggled beneath the pressure. Were they here to take me? Had they finally found me? After all these years, would one request be my downfall?
“Ssh, Miss Crystal, it’s just me.”
In the dim morning light I could just make out the shape of Elise leaning over me. She removed her hand from my mouth and I sat up.
“Elise, you scared me.” I scrubbed my face with my hands. “What time is it?”
“Early. I brought you these.” Elise placed a bundle on my bed.
I pulled it towards me and opened it. Inside the cloth were real clothes. I smiled.
“Thanks, Elise. Where did you get them?”
Elise shook her head and went to stoke the fire.
I took the bundle to the dressing screen and tossed my nightgown over it. Elise sighed and I heard her muttering to herself as she walked through the room.
“I can clean things up, Elise. You don’t need to,” I said as I slipped into the pair of jeans. They fit perfectly.
“It’s my job, Miss. I don’t mind.”
Pulling the t-shirt over my head I walked out from behind the screen. I went to the wardrobe and opened it. Hidden behind the voluminous dresses that Savannah had given me was my jacket and backpack. I took them out and shook out my jacket.
“What are you going to do?” Elise asked as she made the bed.
“Going to go shoot something.” I pulled the black hoodie on and shoved my arms into my jacket. “Don’t worry, I’m only going to hit a target. I’m a good shot.”
Elise didn’t look convinced but left it alone. “And how do you propose to get out of this house without being seen?”
“Well, no one else is up. I could probably run screaming down the hall and no one would come running.” I reached into my jacket pulled out a knife.
I tested the edge with my finger. Elise bit her lip as I removed the other four knives I had hidden in my coat.
“That is a lot of knives, Miss Crystal. Do you really need that many?” She came towards me and touched the edge of my favourite blade. “Ow, it’s sharp.”
“Elise, when you live in the slums a dull blade would do you no good. Even one sharp knife only can stop one person. The more you have, the better chance you have of surviving.” I tucked them all back into their hiding places. “Where are my boots?”
Elise dug into the back of the wardrobe and pulled out the black combat boots I had gotten the year before. I sat on the bed and pushed my feet into them. Lacing up the fronts, I grinned. This was what I was meant to be. The girl ready for anything. No more dresses and pantaloons for me.
“What do you think?” I spun in front of Elise.
She shrugged. “You look dangerous.”
I laughed. “That’s the point.”
I pushed the back door opened and cringed as it squeaked. Someone had to oil the silly door. In place like this is was rather surprising that something had been allowed to get that bad. I tiptoed across the terrace, shushing Truscott as he came bounding over. He jumped around me as I walked across the yard.
The sun poked its rosy finger’s over the horizon and I paused to watch the sky turn to a sea of golds and pinks. It was going to be a beautiful day.
Something in me urged me on and I broke into a run. The wind whipped through my hair. It chilled my throat as I breathed but it felt so good I didn’t want to stop. When I finally stopped I could barely draw a breath. I bent over and sucked air into my lungs. They heaved as they tried to fill with life giving oxygen. When I could breathe almost normally I continued.
Two days ago when I had been out walking I heard the sound of horses. Dante had pointed out the path that led to their stables. It was along that path I now wandered. Somewhere there would be a place to practice.
Truscott had bounded ahead after a rabbit when I saw the place. Off the path was a log covered with lichen, the perfect targets. It was about a hundred yards from where I stood.
I called Truscott and told him to sit. He plopped down on the path and yawned. He knew what was up. I pulled off my backpack and removed the arrow and the quiver. Bending the bow I strung it and then tested it. The string made a resound twang as I let go. I grinned. It was still good.
“Alright, Truscott, let’s see if I can still do this.” I notched an arrow and raised my arm. Resting my thumb by my mouth I sighted along the arrow and released.
The arrow spend through the air and landed just beside the lichen I had aimed for.
“Shoot, forgot to test for wind.” I sucked on my finger for a moment and then held it up. The slightest breeze came from the east.
I notched again and this time allowing for the wind, released towards the log. The arrow landed directly in the centre of the lichen.
“Bulls eye,” I crowed leaning down to pet my dog. “Did you see that, Truscott? I can still do it.”
Truscott yawned again and laid his head down on the path. I laughed. He was bored. He wanted to hunt something and so did I. But today wasn’t the right time. I needed the rest of my strength back. Instead of running off into the woods I released arrow after arrow into the log.
Within minutes the log looked like a pin cushion and all ten arrows were gone. I trudged over to the log and carefully pulled them out. I needed more if I was going to get home alive. Scanning the tree line I spotted a pile of branches. I made my way over and knelt down on the cold ground. Only the straightest sticks could be used to make my shafts and they had to be a quarter of an inch thick. I began to sort through the pile. Most were from maple trees but I found some from cherry and walnut too.
Someone was coming down the path when I stood up. I had found twelve branches that would do. I hid them behind my back as a man strode by whistling. I carefully slipped behind a tree and watched. I didn’t know who I could trust and I didn’t want everyone knowing that I was making more arrows.
The man bent over and patted Truscott. Truscott wagged his tail but made no move to follow the man. The man shrugged and continued down the path. I sighed and then made my way to where my dog lay.
“Good boy, Truscott. Come on, let’s go get breakfast.”